"No, Rav" I said.
"What do you mean 'no'?"
"I mean I'm not doing it."
"I'm sure Fieldnew will be back in a week. He probably took an impromptu vacation with that mystery girlfriend of his."
"I'm on vacation, too. Spring is the only quarter that I don't have a class to teach."
"Look Chris, the dean already specifically requested that you temporarily replace him. Besides Fieldnew, you're the only professor on campus who specializes in medical organic chemistry"
"Well, tell the dean to go to hell."
"Oh right. I'm sure that'll go over real well, especially when he considers giving you tenure next month."
"You can go to hell, too."
"I know. I'll see you, tomorrow. I still hope that you both will go to hell, though"
The sound of an alarm clock: the most discordant, infuriating, and depressing invention ever created by man. As my hand slammed the off button, I could already tell this is going to be a terrible day. The blood vessels in my brain were going insane, pulsating and twitching erratically. I opened my eyes to a spinning room, and a wave of nausea overwhelmed me. There are certain mornings when you know everything is going to turn out terribly. And then there are certain mornings when that feeling is compounded by a hangover. This morning was one of those.
I forced myself to climb out of bed and stand up. The wave of nausea quickly garnered velocity and mass and became a tsunami, forcing me to sit back down. My god, those tequila shots were a bad idea. But, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. And in Santa Barbara, the only sensible action on your last day of vacation is to drink like it was the end of time.
The face of my clock blared a bright green "6:10 AM." I once again willed myself to stand, and I sluggishly staggered to the bathroom. Grabbing a toothbrush, I knelt over the toilet and forced the apparatus down my throat. The tequila tasted as good coming back up as it did coming down. My college roommate taught me well: the best way to deal with nausea is to just vomit and get it over with. Feeling slightly more optimistic that the worst was over and done with, I quickly showered, dressed, and headed for campus.
I arrived on campus at 7:30 AM, half an hour before my class. I stopped by the campus Jamba Juice and sat on the bench outside of the drinkery, watching the students scurry and rush to do their morning business. I couldn't help but feel a bit afraid for myself and for these students. College certainly provided students with a wonderful atmosphere: a world of new freedoms, a myriad of new responsibilities, and a lifetime of memories in the making. But most people fail to realize that college also brings all the troubles and traumas of a thousand students into one place. The university bustled with homesick, overworked, stressed out, and sexually frustrated kids. Students assume college professors have the easiest job in the world; their sole job is to talk to a bunch of students an hour or two a day, and let their TAs do the rest of the work. Students fail to realize, however, that professors have to deal with the neurosis of a hundred ticking time-bombs.
Eventually, I sauntered to class and peered at the faces of fifty college students. I was surprised to see so many students were taking Medical Organic Chemistry, by far the most rigorous and the final lab class for pharmacology majors. The small lecture hall was filled to the brim with students, half of whom, I'm sure, never attend lectures regularly. Today was special though. The students were expecting an explanation to the mystery of their week long missing professor. I quelled their curiosity with my own lack of information on the matter and immediately lectured on the effects of stereoisomers on cell-recognition sites. By the end of the hour, even I was bored. The subject was too complicated and too technical to truly interest anyone.
After class, Daniella Godard, the TA, and Kio Jung, the lab hand,introduced themselves. Daniella had the typical look of a college TA with her pseudo-intellectual black framed glasses and sweater vests. The only thing differentiating Daniella from her peers (and the only way I was able to tell her apart from the other TAs) was her shiny braces, which lent her a young and innocent look. Kio, on the other hand, was a burly middle-aged Korean man. Judging from his tattoos, I guessed he'd once been “in the system,” yet he had a surprisingly cheerful and extrovert personality. With the help of Daniella and Kio, I managed to adequately teach the class for a fortnight. I would go to class each morning and then wait diligently by the phone each night for a call from the administrators of the biology department that would relieve me of the my position. By the third week, I became annoyed at Fieldnew. The asshole decided to take a long vacation by ruining mine. Finally, by the end of week four, I got the call.
"Chris, this is Rav."
"Finally," I said with a sigh of relief. "So where's the asshole been?"
"The bottom of the lagoon."
"What?" I asked incredulously. "He went scuba diving at the bottom of the lagoon? I didn't even know anything could survive in that water."
"Nothing can. He certainly didn't. He drowned."
"The police say they aren't sure yet. They've sealed off his office as a possible crime scene, so you get to work out of the classroom instead."
I could feel an emptiness spreading through my insides. "I hope this call isn't your subtle way of telling me that I'm his permanent replacement for the quarter."
"No, I was just informing all of the biology faculty of the lost of our dear colleague. I forgot how much of a prick you are," replied Rav tartly.
"So I'm not his permanent replacement, then?"
"Oh, no. You are. Have fun with that."
I decided to end the call.
The next day, I informed the class of the news of their former professor. It felt as if something put an airtight seal around the room and started a vacuum. A complete hush fell over the class, and, for the first time, there weren't any students muttering to each other or shuffling around their backpacks for papers. I looked over to Daniella and Kio, both of whom had paled upon hearing the news. Daniella was clearly devastated as she hurriedly ran from the room with tears running down her cheek. She must have really bonded with Fieldnew. As instructed by the dean, I informed the students that I'd be in the classroom for the next eight hours and invited them to stop to talk about their feelings. Hopefully, few of them will actually show up. I wouldn't know what to say to sobbing students.
As I had hoped, few students actually came to talk to me, so I took advantage of the spare time to start on the paperwork involved in being a professor i.e. grading. Daniella had helpfully Fieldnew's grade book on the table. I flipped through the book looking for the page with the grades of this specific class and found it easily. There was only one page filled out. Fieldnew was such a lazy asshole. I found that Daniella, bless her heart, had already filled in all of the grades, even recording the midterm results. It was at this joyous moment that my phone rang. It was the administration. Always ready to ruin the happy moments of my life.
“Yes Rav,” I sighed.
“Hey Carrabba, I have good news and bad news,” he mumbled. “The police just told me that they're suspecting foul play in Fieldnew's death. Luckily for you, they've ruled out his office as the scene of the crime, and you've been cleared to use it.”
“Did they mention what was the cause of death?” I queried.
“Nope. The crime scene investigators did mention that Fieldnew's front pockets were full of condoms and his back pockets were full of dirt, though. And his blood stream had a lot more sodium and some other chemical.. thio-something than normal.”
“Lucky bastard spent his last moments on earth romping with a chick on the lagoon. So what's the good news then?” I asked.
“I just told you. You can use his office. I hope you've caught up with the grading. Final grades from professors need to be submitted to the Registrar's Office by tomorrow afternoon. Bye.”
Normally, I would be annoyed with Rav's curtness, but I was too smug over the fact that Daniella had already done all the work for me. Regardless, I decided to cruise over to the Biology department and check out the office of my dearly departed colleague.
Fieldnew's office was framed by bookshelves, with the books not organized in any intelligible manner. The room had a desk, a cabinet, and a few chairs, with boxes full of papers stacked atop all of them. Sitting at a dead man's desk was just as dull as I assumed. His desk was surprisingly sparse and organized. The only objects on his desk was an ancient looking desktop computer and a framed picture of his dog. After an hour of sitting at the desk, pretending to be engrossed in something important (I was doing a Sudoku puzzle), I realized the halls of the building were deserted and I sure wasn't going to get the chance to impress any passerbys. So, I decided to do something constructive – snoop through Fieldnew's stuff. As I tried to play detective, I discovered that every cabinet and drawer that I attempted to look into was locked. I heaved myself away from the cabinets in a fit of exaggerated exasperation. I misjudged the size of the room and flew into Fieldnew's desk, knocking his dog picture onto the ground. As the glass shattered, a key skittered across the floor, stopping at my toes. That was lucky. I picked up the key and tried top left drawer of the desk. It popped open. Strange, this is starting to feel like a badly written mystery novel. Mm, I wonder where I could buy a cool looking fedora hat. Searching through the drawer, I discovered the midterms that he had given his class two days prior to his disappearance. I had left Fieldnew's grade book back in the classroom, but since the original copies of the midterm were still in the desk, I decided to boot up Fieldnew's computer and start uploading the grades to the Registrar's database. I quickly logged in using my assigned network password and opened up Fieldnew's grade book program. I grabbed the stack of midterms and looked at the name of the student. Jasmine Wetherall. Too bad for her, she had scored a D+. She seemed to have missed almost everything, except, oddly enough, for questions on the structures and mechanisms used to make anesthesia. As I scanned the computer screen for her name and corresponding column, I discovered that her grade, as well as everyone else's grade, had already been input into the system. Strangely enough, I also noticed that Jasmine's grade on the program was an A. I quickly corrected the error and started double checking the other midterms to make sure Fieldnew hadn't screwed up again. He had managed to input all of them correctly except for one other. Elizabeth Simple. Her midterm was 90% blank, and the 10% percent she did fill out was incorrect. Yet, Fieldnew had also given her an A for the test. He couldn't really be that retarded so I decided to check the computer log and discovered that the last edit was indeed edited by user Cfieldnew on 06/01/07... two days after his disappearance. Either he had resurrected himself to input these midterm grades, or something was seriously awry. No one outside of faculty and administrators should know the password as it acts as a master key, enabling users access to anywhere in the network, ergo my suspects were a zombified Bio professor or another faculty member. I looked around the room for clues and discovered a tiny yellow rubber band sitting daintily at the corner of the desk. I recognized it as a dental band, since I had suffered through many painful years of braces as a teen. Weird. I tossed the band into the trash can and noticed a crumpled piece of paper in the otherwise empty bin. Uncrumpling it, I found that it read, “SR 1264 Midnight.<3.”>
I stuffed the note in my pocket to contemplate further since I was suddenly hit with a wave of sluethy-ness. I heard someone in the hallway and quickly jumped out of my seat and bolted from the room. I really didn't want to be busted for breaking a dead guy's picture frame of his dog.
The next day rolled by, and I slowly passed back the midterms. I gave Jasmine's and Liz's midterms back last, since I left them at the bottom of the stack after I corrected the grades. Jasmine Wetherall wouldn't even look me in the eye. She looked like an underfed vulture; her body was lengthy yet oddly thin while her nose was the severest and sharpest nose I've ever seen. Her nose could carve rocks, I'm sure. Man, I could totally imagine her swooping down from the sky to peck at an animal carcass.
Suddenly, she asked, “Is something the matter?”
“What do you mean.,” I replied, confusedly.
“Well, you've been staring at me for almost two minutes now.”
Oh shit. I really do have a staring problem. Time to conjure up an awesome lie in.. 3... 2... 1...:
“Oh, sorry. I was just looking at your nose, wait, face, I meant face. You look really familiar.”
“Oh, I don't know. I'm on the track team. Maybe you've seen me running for the team or around around the lagoon. I run at the same time every day.”
“Must be it!” I exclaimed as I quickly scurried away toward Elizabeth Simple.
As I handed Liz's midterm back to her, I subtly checked her out. She was a bona fide babe. Shockingly, she looked up at me and coyly, yes COYLY, smiled at me. I gaped at her through my messy beard and bloodshot eyes. Maybe I shouldn't have gone on that date with Jack Daniel's last night. Regardless, the ladies sure do love me, as evidenced by the following exchange.
“I'm so glad you're our new professor,” she purred. “I was hoping it'd be a cute older guy.”
She giggled, sending me into jags of ecstasy. I dragged my jaw closed and composed myself enough to suavely reply, “oh, yeah, uh, thanks.”
She batted her eyelashes at me and added, “We should get to know each other better. You should come by the SR lounge tonight.”
Even though I was pretty sure I was trapped in an alternate trashy-romance novel universe, I asked, “SR?”
“Santa Rosa,” she said. “It's the name of my dorm! I'm in room 1264. You should come by sometime!” “Um. Sure. That's hot.”
I spun away in a frenzy of hormonal excitement before stopping face to face with Daniella. That sure brought me back down to earth. Did I just say “That's hot?” Damn that Channel E and Paris Hilton.
“Hey Daniella, someone edited the Registrar grade book after Fieldnew died,” I said. “The idiot made a bunch of mistakes too. It took me like, ten minutes to correct them. Did someone else have Fieldnew's pass key?”
Daniella twitched nervously, her left hand rubbing what looked a Cartier watch that rested on her right hand. It was literally a diamond in the rough. Daniella practically wore rags, yet her watch glistened with expensive resplendence. “No,” she sputtered.” Uh, I don't think so. I, uh, don't know.”
“Because the mistakes were strangely suspicious. I sure hope there isn't an underground student grade hacking network that you're involved in and not telling me about,” I joked.
Daniella jumped, knocked over a coffee cup and accidentally threw her notebook across the room. She looked up guiltily and stammered, “Oh shit, sorry. No. Of course not, that would be cheating... which is wrong...” She scrambled to pick up her notebook and bolted out the door. She's a nervous one, that one.
As I slowly came down from my earlier hormonal high I realized that Liz had invited me to SR 1246, the same cryptic letter/number combo on the paper in Fieldnew's office. It suddenly dawned on me that Liz must be one of those girls... A professor's Holy Grail – the grade whore. Of course I would never dine on Fieldnew's sloppy seconds. I have too much dignity for that. Yet if she was indeed the “mystery girlfriend,” then the coincidence of her grade being inflated was too obvious to ignore. If so, did that mean that Jasmine Wetherall was also part of this delicious... I mean ethically questionable grade inflation orgy?
I was teeming with jealousy. But also curiosity. Who was changing the grades two days after Fieldnew's death?
As I scooped up the pieces of the coffee cup Daniella had demolished, a tall, thin, dark haired, and pale faced student dropped by. Introducing himself as Bob Wilcox, he immediately began gushing and sobbing about how the death of his professor has affected him. Apparently, Fieldnew had acted as a personal mentor for Wilcox for the last few months, directing and motivating toward his goal of pharmacy school. I stared at him, shocked at my own bad luck. If I had just left a minute earlier, I wouldn't be sitting here, listening to this kid pour out his heart and soul to me. I sat at my desk, with a fake, but dazzling, smile planted on my lips and boredom burrowed in my brain, attempting to look sympathetic. After an hour of his insane gibbering, he finally calmed down and thanked me for listening. I ushered him out and cracked open a flask of whiskey.
As I was about to take a swig for lunch, I heard a gun shot ring in the hallway followed by a blood curdling cry of pain. I rushed out of the classroom only to find Daniella on the floor in the hallway, rolled up into a ball and clutching her stomach in pain. For such a tiny girl, she certainly had a lot of blood; it poured out of her like a torrent onto the floor. I grab my cell phone and quickly call the paramedics. I tore my shirt into pieces and used it as a tourniquet. I was able to slow the blood loss but not to stop it.
“Daniella, who shot you?” I asked her fervently.
No response. She must have lost consciousness from the pain. As I waited for the paramedics, I glanced around the hallway. It was late in the afternoon- no students or professor would be in the building as all the classes have ended hours ago. By the time the paramedics arrived, I could tell it was already too late. Despite my own efforts to resuscitate her with mouth-to-mouth, I couldn't get her to start breathing again. I can't believe I just put my lips on a dead chick.
Call me paranoid, but I couldn't help but feel there was foul play involved in Daniella's death. When the police arrived, I answered all of their questions and watched them mark off the area. I went back to my room to grab my belongings when when I noticed I was still shirtless and displaying my god-like build to the entire world. If only my students were here. They'd be in for such a treat. I realy am giving. After concluding that I really am as gorgeous as I think I am, I called it day. After being hit on a blond bombshell and attempting to revive a very homely looking TA, I deserved a break. When I got to my car, I took out my keys only to be blinded by the glint of the streetlight on my keys. Suddenly, I flashed back to when I first met Daniella: her shiny braces. The dental band belonged her, so she was the one who changed the grades. It the pieces began to fall into place. Fieldnew went missing. Two days later, someone edited the grade book on his computer. Only two grades differed from the actual ones on the midterm: Jasmine Wetherall's and Elizabeth Simple's. Elizabeth Simple was sleeping with the professor for her grade change, so that left only one answer: Daniella must have edited Jasmine's grade. That leaves me with three questions: Why was Daniella changing Jasmine's grade? How does explain Fieldnew's and Daniella's death? Why aren't the cops doing their job?
I knew the police still would be covering my building like donut-eating ants. When I got back to the crime scene, I asked the investigator if they found any clues. They had two: a dental band and a small screw with a pointed top. I assumed the dental band flew out of Daniella's mouth from the impact of the bullet, but I don't know what she would be doing with such a weird looking screw. Suddenly, it all dawned on me: “It was Jasmine!”
The exclamation logically caused quite a scene, as the officers looked up from their investigation and inquired, “whaddya just say?”
From the looks on their faces, I could tell that they thought I was insane. My shirtless body, bloodshot eyes, and unshaven face did not help my credibility. I began my explanation, wondering if they'll give me an award for being so ridiculously brilliant.
“Professor Fieldnew died from drowning, but there were chemicals in his system. This chemical, sodium thiopental, is a very common intravenous anesthetic. While this may seem hard to obtain in the real world, remember that Jasmine's taking medical organic chemistry. All she does for for three times a week is make these substances and learn how to use them. And she certainly did know, since she aced that section of her midterm. Unfortunately for her, that was the only part she passed. She essentially failed the midterm and would most likely fail the class, so she got antsy about her future. To fail a required upper-division course is to basically waste your last four years in college. She knew pharmacy schools wouldn't even consider a student who failed such a crucial subject, so she did what she felt had to: bribe Daniella Godard to change her grades. Daniella had the means and ability to change grades, and she did. That ridiculously expensive watch on her wrists proves it. Professor Fieldnew must have realized their plan and threatened to report them to the university. Once again, Jasmine did what she felt she had to: she used the intravenous anesthesia on the professor, knocking him unconscious, and dragged his body in the lagoon. This explains the dirt in his back pockets and the cause of his death. He couldn't save himself from drowning. At this point, Jasmine's gone to the extreme to protect her academic career. What happens next? I came and corrected her grade. The guilty TA didn't have the balls to change the grade again. Daniella tells Jasmine she do anything about the grades, and Jasmine loses it. She had essentially murdered a man for no reason. In a fit of anger, she murders Daniella and dashes away, leaving one of her track spikes behind.”
The hallway was filled with a momentary silence. I could tell they were in awe of my ability of detection. The police, then, sent out a search party for Jasmine, but I knew she would probably be long gone by now. As I headed for the exit, I heard a cry from down the hall. Annoyed at the sudden influx of drama in my life, I followed the cry to the girl's bathroom, only to discover that Jasmine never left the building. One of the crime scene investigators needed to use the restroom and found Jasmine's body lying next to a sink on the floor in a pool of her own vomit. Without a doubt, she suffocated. In her hand was an empty needle.
As I left the biology, I saw Liz running toward me.
“Hey Professor, I was hoping you'd still be here. I guess today's my lucky day. What happened to your shirt?” she asked kittenishly as she her hand seemingly brushed up against my chest by accident..
“Nothing. I just had a long day,” I replied with a smile.
“Oh, well, I just wanted to tell you that my invitation to... hang out... is still open.”
I stare at her in disbelief. I could see myself teetering between doing what was ethically right and doing what my hormones were telling me. Eventually, I said, “Sure. How's now?”
“Now's perfect,” she whispered with a wink. “And I also wanted to, maybe, talk to you about making sure I get an A in your class.”
“I guess that'll depend if you get an A on your performance tonight,” I responded.
“Oh, I will. I'm sure of it.”
“God, I'm so lucky,” I said to myself. I was about to be honored by the police department and the university for solving the murder of a respect colleague. And now, I'm about to sleep with a girl ten years my junior who doesn't even realize that I already turned in the grades. She got a dazzling F.